London and local elections - Bad day for New Labour

A first look at the electoral disaster for the Labour Party in the council elections and Ken Livingstone's victory in the London Mayoral contest.

It is now all too clear that Thursday nights local election results were the worst for Labour since 1992. It looks as if over 500 seats have been lost to the Tories and Lib-Dems. In Labour's "heartland's" the results were catastrophic with seats that have been Labour for decades being lost. Councils such as Oldham and Hartlepool (Mandelson's constituency) have been lost and former strongholds such as Liverpool and Sheffield are now firmly in enemy hands.

What is now all too clear is that Labour voters have, just as last year in the Euro and assembly elections in Scotland and Wales, decided to stay at home in droves and not vote . With the Tory vote staying relatively solid, it was enough to cost the party hundreds of seats.

Of course, if this wasn't enough we also have the disaster in London. In the mayoral election the official Labour candidate Frank Dobson only managed to come a distant third with 12% of the first preference votes, just beating the Lib-Dems on 11%, and far behind the Tory with 26% of the first preference votes and the winner Ken Livingstone who got 38% of the first preference votes (which increased to 57% when the 2nd choice votes where transferred).

Labour voters came out in their thousands to support Livingstone who they correctly saw as the real Labour candidate, thereby giving Blair a bloody nose. Had Livingstone launched any real campaign then he would have done even better. As it was this election was marked by a noticeable lack of canvassing, leaflets or posters on the part of all the main candidates. Virtually no Labour Party workers were active during the campaign either for Dobson or Livingstone. The result was a very low poll, even lower than the turn out for the referendum to set up the position of Mayor and Assembly.

Ironically, Livingstone standing not only probably prevented the possibility of Dobson losing to the Tory, Steve Norris, but also benefited Labour's candidates for the Assembly election. As it was this was only a relative benefit-Labour's performance was still very poor, only picking up 6 constituency seats (as against 8 won by the Tories) and only getting 30% of the party list vote as against 29% for the Tories, a disgraceful situation for the capital city which should be rock solid Labour. Again the protest against the policies of New Labour showed itself in the 11% won by the Green Party, giving them 3 seats on the top up system. With the Tories and Labour both having 9 seats each, the balance of power is now held by the Greens and the Lib-Dems (who have 4 top up seats).

The trend is now clear. New Labour is not proving itself to be a vote winner. In election after election they are losing out as workers become disillusioned with the pro-market policies and talk of Blair and co. The prospect of a second victory for Labour at the next general election can no longer be taken for granted. Relying on the still poor state of the Tories, as shown by the Romsey by-election defeat, may not be enough come the election day, which may only be a year away now. Labour and trade union activists must demand a change of course and the adoption of socialist policies and a leadership prepared to fight for them.